Rogers Centre hosts women's team

Rogers Centre hosts women's team

TORONTO -- In a word, they were impressive.

With the Blue Jays on the road to face the Orioles, the Toronto organization opened its doors on Monday to the Canadian Women's National Team, which made an immediate impact on a number of former Major Leaguers during its first workout and intrasquad game at Rogers Centre during its six-day selection camp for the 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games.

"One day of watching these girls here, I've seen they all have baseball knowledge," said former Blue Jays reliever Duane Ward. "They all know what they want to do, now it's just executing what they want to do.

"They know how to play the game. It's not that they don't have good arms to throw or that they don't have good bats -- they have that. Now it's just figuring out how to progress and get a lot better. Some of them have been around for a long time and they know the game, and I'm impressed. It's not that they're girls who are baseball players, they're baseball players who just happen to be girls."

Ward was joined on Monday by fellow Blue Jays alumni Devon White and Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar. Alomar was the catalyst in bringing out the big leaguers after first assisting the national squad last August before it headed to the Women's Baseball World Cup in Japan.

Fifteen-year Major League infielder Sandy Alomar was also on hand, along with veteran Team Canada backstop Chris Robinson, who made his Major League debut with the Padres two seasons ago and who currently serves as a guest coach for the Canadian Junior National Team.

"There's always something you can learn, especially from those guys," women's team manager Andre Lachance said. "We started that relationship with Roberto last year and then he brought his friends this year, which was kind of neat.

"I like Chris a lot. He's a good guy and he has lots of knowledge. He's a good teacher. That was really kind of him to come and spend a bit of time with the three catchers."

The experience was especially enjoyable for Robinson, who has taken on a full-time coaching role since retiring. In addition to helping Canada's junior team, he works with a number of young players in London, Ontario, at Centrefield Sports, and is the director of baseball operations for the Great Lake Canadians program.

"I love it," Robinson said of working with the national team. "I owe it to the program, and that's not why I do it, but I definitely owe it to the program because it's been such a big part of what I've had the opportunity to do. So any time I can help, I love doing it.

"I was very impressed. It was a good baseball game and obviously a great setting, with them getting to be here at Rogers Centre."

White previously worked with national team members Ashley Stephenson and Autumn Mills, as well as assistant coach Sam Magalas, during camps with the Blue Jays Baseball Academy, but he had never really seen them play. He spent the most time with the outfielders on Monday, and they left their mark.

"I was impressed with how they know the game, and they catch and throw the ball well," said White, who spent 17 seasons in the Majors. "I knew they were good, so I'm more impressed with the hitting and pitching and just playing the game. They're throwing the ball to the right bases and making the plays.

"I'm more impressed with that, because I've see young men who aren't as good as they are. I'm looking forward to tomorrow to see them playing the boys' teams."

On Tuesday the group of 32 women will return to Rogers Centre to play against two local squads before hitting the road for five games around the Toronto area. The camp will conclude with a return to Rogers Centre over the weekend, and the final roster of 18 will be announced on Sunday after an experience the players are unlikely to forget.

"Some of the girls have never been in this building before," Lachance said. "So other than seeing it on TV, they've never [experienced] it. When we were walking in this morning, it was exciting for them. Some of them were a bit excited, maybe sometimes a bit overexcited, but that's why we wanted to get in a workout this morning so we could feel out the playing surface and be ready for the game in the afternoon."

Added Mills, who grew up in London, just two hours from Toronto: "When I was a kid, my grandma had season tickets to the SkyDome, and I would come here every summer. Back then I really wasn't thinking about being on Team Canada. And now, having an opportunity to play not only at Rogers Centre but on the new turf, it's pretty awesome. And I'm not going to lie, the lights are a lot tougher than I thought they were."

Not only did the women enjoy their first chance at playing on a big league surface, the top-notch Major League assistance made the day that much better.

"It's amazing," Mills said. "I was out there in the outfield for about 10 minutes with Devon, and I learned things in 10 minutes that I've actually never heard, and I've been around baseball. I've coached, I've worked with them, and their knowledge of the game is pretty awesome. It's definitely a huge benefit for our team."

Team Canada is looking to take advantage of every opportunity along the road to the Pan Am Games. Although they are excited just to be a part of the tournament, they're hoping to leave everyone as impressed as they did on Monday.

"We've come a long way, and the program has come a long way," Lachance said. "It's going to be a privilege to be a part of those games, a privilege to represent Baseball Canada, and women's baseball keeps growing, not only here in Canada but everywhere around the world, so it's exciting."

Alexis Brudnicki is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.